State and Local Government Workforce: 2021 Survey

June 1, 2021

Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE)

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) at ICMA-RC has been partnering with the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) and the National Association of State Personnel Executives (NASPE) to conduct an annual workforce survey since 2009. This survey of human resource professionals tracks key challenges facing state and local governments in the recruitment and retention of talented employees and the strategies being employed to manage and compensate those staff.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, workforce approaches like flexible work arrangements became much more common, with 53% of organizations offering regular telework, although the scope of implementation was still dependent upon the types of services being delivered. While organizations continued to hire new staff, financial or staffing cuts increased from what had been seen in recent years. Regardless, the share of respondents reporting both furloughs (19%) and layoffs (15%) remained lower this year than they were in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 recession (30% and 42%, respectively). Overall, 28% saw a decrease in full-time employment.

Recruitment has remained difficult, with more than half of respondents indicating that they are having a hard time filling positions in health care, corrections, policing, skilled trades, and engineering. In addition, in organizations recruiting registered nurses, about 4 in 5 indicated that they received fewer qualified applications than the number of positions available.

One looming challenges for public sector agencies is the retirement of long-time employees, as the baby boom generation prepares to leave the workforce. This year’s survey included an assessment of the extent to which that trend has already manifested itself or is still pending, with 52% of respondents indicating that the largest share of potential retirements is still anticipated in the next few years.

Relatedly, one indicator that is significantly higher in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is the percentage of respondents indicating that retirement-eligible employees are accelerating their retirement plans—at 38%, this is the highest rate observed since the survey began in 2009.

From a competitiveness standpoint, public sector employers often have difficulty competing with private sector firms, which may have more flexibility to offer higher salaries to meet market demand. This is borne out in the survey data regarding salary compensation (60% view their organization as being competitive with the overall labor market) and benefits (92% competitive).

Most jurisdictions did not implement cuts to health or retirement benefits in the past year, but among those that did, reduction or elimination of cost-of-living adjustments or cost shifting from the employer to the employee were the most common steps taken.

This report includes data both for the 2021 survey as well as prior years’ surveys on corresponding questions.

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